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Socialist Appeal, October 1935, Volume 2 No. 1, Pages 2 and 8
Transcribed and Marked Up by Damon Maxwell in 2009 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

Socialists And The Italian-Ethiopian Conflict

THE National Executive Committee of our party correctly surmised that the contemplated attack of Italy upon the Ethiopian people was important enough and serious enough to justify the issuing of an appeal to the American workers to support the Ethiopian people. Perhaps we should be grateful for such little favors and not look too carefully at the contents of the proclamation. But alas we need not look too carefully at the contents to convince us that as revolutionary socialists we must protest and vigorously at that.

We had a vague suspicion that our NEC had something to do with the socialist movement. We therefore half expected that a proclamation coming from the NEC dealing with such a vital problem as an immediately threatening attack by an imperialist power would say something with reference to capitalism being the fundamental cause of imperialist war and with reference to socialism as the only guarantee of permanent peace. Knowing the character of the N E C we hardly expected a revolutionary socialist proclamation but we did hope for a vaguely socialist proclamation.

The word ‘socialism’ cannot be found in the proclamation except when mention is made of the Labor and Socialist International. Neither does the word ‘capitalism’ occur. It would be absurd for us to insist that those words must be used in every socialist proclamation although we can hardly conceive of the possibility that they would be altogether omitted. We simply mean to indicate that the proclamation has absolutely no socialist character whatsoever about it. The mildest type of liberal could vote for that proclamation with both hands. As a matter of fact no supporter of the capitalist system could possibly take offense at it, excluding a principled fascist.

What an enthusiastic greeting the proclamation should receive at the hands of the Stalinists! It contains the fundamental premise of the communists that at the present time only the reactionary powers, Italy, Germany and Japan will be responsible for any war. The inference is clear that the other capitalist powers are not reactionary and are not to be held responsible for any conflict.

“The enemy of all that is best in modern civilization.... is to be found in the fascist and aggressive militarist nations like Italy, Germany and Japan” categorically asserts the NEC in its statement. What conclusion can the workers draw from this solemn pronouncement? That capitalism is not the enemy; only fascism. If the dominant elements of the NEC had any political sense they would immediately accept every united-front offer of the communists. There are no theoretical differences between those two camps. In France where the situation is critical the right wing socialists have some political acumen and are not governed by the prejudices of yesterday and consequently find no difficulty in working together with the bureaucrats of the Communist party against the revolutionary socialist elements.

Position of Norman Thomas

We presume that Comrade Thomas read the NEC proclamation and realized that it is not exactly in harmony with his position of supporting the neutrality resolution introduced in congress. Thomas was not satisfied with that resolution because he was in favor of ..a more. strict neutrality than that provided for by the resolution. In his later comments on the war situation Thomas dos not at all make clear what attitude he takes towards the problem of neutrality. He seems to have veered around to the NEC position of a boycott against Italy and not against Ethiopia, which is correct.

No argument should be necessary to convince a revolutionary socialist that it is impossible for a Socialist party to be neutral in a war between an imperialist robber country and a semi-colonial people. We must call upon the workers to do all they can to defeat the imperialist power because the interests of the international working class demands the defeat of any imperialist power attempting to enslave a backward people.

This does not mean that we should agitate to have our own capitalist government place an embargo on Italy. In a case where War is involved the working class must play its role independently of the capitalist government. We can have no faith whatever in any motives of a government representing the capitalist class. We would be bitterly opposed to having our “own” government declare war on Italy because we know that it would do so only to protect its own imperialist interests and not to help Ethiopia.

Reformist Socialists and Communists Help their Capitalist Governments

The Labor and Socialist International, the International Federation of Trade Unions together with the Communist International have come out for sanctions by the League of Nations against Italy. THIS IS THE BETRAYAL OF 1914 OVER AGAIN.

We are against supporting any capitalist government in any war. Revolutionary socialists are for revolutionary defeatism. The reformist socialists and the communists have now openly shown that they are birds of one feather. The threatening war has shown clearly that a united front of reformists and Stalinists against revolutionary socialists is inevitable.

Pacifism, and Confusion

In the lead of those who demand that the capitalist governments apply sanctions against Mussolini are the British labor leaders, as was to be expected. That party is more than anxious to show its readiness to defend the interests of British imperialism. George Lansbury and Arthur Ponsonby of the British Labor party have come out in opposition to sanctions because they are opposed to a “peace, by force policy.” This is a pacifist position with which revolutionary socialists can have nothing in common. The attitude of Stafford Cripps is a highly confused one. As John Cripps admits in an article in the Socialist Call “its practical results would be very similar to that of Comrade Lansbury”. Cripps says he will not Support sanctions as long as it is in favor of an imperialist government but his methods of doing away with imperialists seems to be to ask the imperialists to surrender their imperialist rights. Whereas the attitude of revolutionary socialists is to struggle for the defeat of their own imperialist government.

It must be made exceedingly clear that in fighting against the Italian imperialists we are fighting for the interests of the Italian working class. The cause of the Italian workers is very dear to us and we shall do all in our power to help them free themselves from slavery of fascism and capitalism. The defeat of Mussolini is a victory for the Italian workers.

And it must be made just as clear that we are not at all interested in the King of Kings and the Conquering Lion of Judah How shameful and disgraceful is the attitude of the Communists toward that slave owner and defender of the feudal lords They act as if that slave driver represents the interests of the Ethiopian peasants and slaves. We defend the Ethiopian people against the imperialist designs of Italy but we are not at all interested in seeing that Haile Selassie remains as the ruler of an exploited people.

Revolutionary socialists in contradistinction to reformists and Stalinists will say clearly: WE ARE AGAINST THE GOVERNMEMENT OF MUSSOLINI BUT WE ARE ALSO AGAINST OUR OWN IMPERIALIST GOVERNMENTS AND THAT FIRST OF ALL.

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